The Safety & Effectiveness Of Cannabis-Based Medicines For Children With Cancer

The safety and effectiveness of cannabis-based medicines for children with cancer remain uncertain, according to a recent analysis of nineteen scientific studies. The studies aimed to assess whether medical marijuana or products containing cannabis are safe and effective for managing symptoms in pediatric cancer patients.

Lead study author Lauren Kelly, an associate professor of pharmacology and therapeutics at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, explained that due to varying outcomes and study designs, it was challenging to determine the overall benefit across the studies. However, in studies with active control groups, cannabinoids showed some promise in managing symptoms like nausea and vomiting. The data, however, were lacking when it came to assessing cannabinoids’ effects on pain, mood, sleep, and overall quality of life.

While some children reported benefits from using cannabis-containing products, others experienced adverse events. Given this variability, Kelly stressed the need for more rigorous research to be conducted to evaluate the effects of cannabinoids on children with cancer. The results of such studies should be shared with parents, patients, and the healthcare community to make informed decisions.

Childhood cancer treatments have improved over time, but many children still suffer from pain, anxiety, and weight loss due to both their illness and the treatments they receive. Cannabis products have gained popularity among patients and families for managing these symptoms. However, pediatric oncologists are cautious about recommending cannabis due to the lack of comprehensive data.

The analysis included a total of 1,927 participants from nineteen unique studies. These studies encompassed various research designs, including randomized controlled clinical trials, open-label studies, retrospective chart reviews, and case reports. The products used in the studies included medical-grade cannabinoids, synthetic cannabinoids, and unspecified cannabis herbal extracts. These were primarily used to manage chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

The analysis found that patients using cannabinoids, especially in randomized trials, were more likely to experience side effects like drowsiness, feeling high, dizziness, and dry mouth. Additionally, they were almost four times more likely to discontinue the study due to adverse events compared to the control group that received a placebo.

The studies did not report any serious cannabis-related adverse events, suggesting that these products might have a relatively favorable safety profile. However, more standardized reporting of cannabis exposures, effects, and patient outcomes is needed to facilitate accurate assessment and comparison of results across studies.

In an effort to gain more insights, a new study is set to recruit 60 participants for a tolerability trial involving cannabinoids. This study aims to contribute further to the understanding of the effects of cannabis-based medicines on children with cancer.


Dr. Oche Otorkpa PG Cert, MPH, PhD

Dr. Oche is a seasoned Public Health specialist who holds a post graduate certificate in Pharmacology and Therapeutics, an MPH, and a PhD both from Texila American University. He is a member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK. He authored two books: "The Unseen Terrorist," published by AuthorHouse UK, and "The Night Before I Killed Addiction."
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